Last week I wrote about how happy making art makes me. It got 83 ‘likes’ in 24 hours. So what does that mean?
Interesting to me is the total focus of the piece on happiness. Over the past several hours, I’ve been thinking about whether opinion pieces have simply become too negative, too querulous, too agonizing and therefore too ridiculous to read. To the point that perhaps readers are starved of simple stories that make human happiness seem once again possible for regular folks.
Think of what the average well-informed human had to deal with this week alone: the Wuhan coronavirus; the impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate; the latest horrible bush fires in Canberra, Australia, and the growing pressures of the global climate crisis; increasingly bizarre episodes of winter weather – floods on southern Vancouver Island, horrific cold on the Prairies, and three-metre snow drifts in St. John’s, N.L.; the ramping meanness of so many Internet exchanges via everything from person-to-person emails to social media postings; for boomers especially, the onset of the fourth quartile of life with all of its incipient illnesses and deaths (I have experienced the deaths of eight work colleagues and friends in the last four months). Need I go on?
So what’s to be done to rewire the human psyche away from incipient doom – to something else?
Apparently art works. Arguably, attempting to make beauty is still seen as a social good. In most cases the means chosen to this end are very simple: paint, brushes, water, sketching pads or canvases, and a chair and work table or easel.
It helps to have a wonderful view to paint (as I did last week), or a picture or memory of some event that inspires your creative muse. I guess that also means that you need a creative muse; indeed that you have one. To make you think, act and create. A good teacher can help with this process, and luckily I have one right now in Ursula Medley and her Saturday afternoon art classes.
But stepping away from art, what of my other creative outlet – writing weekly opinion pieces?
Is it possible to compose 750 words week in and week out without descending (at least occasionally) into cynicism, doubt, negative critique and void?
Last week’s piece plainly argues, “Yes!”
But a quick glance at the Troy Media home page shows a plethora of criticism and a want of beauty. Plainly, the business thrives on the opinion-of-the-moment.
So why is this? Is it simply the legacy of all the negative things I listed above or is it the inherent behaviour of opinion writers to trend towards the negative? Why can’t opinions be in the majority positive? When did we begin assuming that opinion writers were basically the nabobs of negativity?
In basic terms, I think opinion piece writers respond to stimuli that surround us all. When mass media fills the swamp with codswallop, they do their best to make sense of it for the reading public. When everyone appears to be angry, they pitch to the prevailing truths and sentiments. Grrrr begets grrrr. Week after week.
So what does it take to promote consistent happiness in a world predisposed to something else?
I actually don’t think it’s that hard: it takes an effort to look on the bright side of life. I realize that this is a bit Monty Pythonic, but really, the legacy of our current Romans isn’t all that bad. To quote Reg (in The Life of Brian): “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?” Xerxes then notes that they also brought peace.
Ultimately, it’s all a question of attitude. To up the positive ante, the opinion writer has to make the effort to be positive. Last Sunday, 83 readers agreed with this premise.
Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. He is currently chair emeritus of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.